UPDATE with more reactions: The war over net neutrality is on. FCC chairman Ajit Pai today laid out his plan to reverse the agency’s 2015 open Internet rules designed to guarantee that service providers treat everyone’s content equally.
At the agency’s May 18 meeting he will introduce a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would change the decision to regulate the Internet as a common-carrier service similar to phones under Title II of the Communications Act.
The change would establish the Internet as a Title I information subject to what Pai calls “light-touch regulation.”
The FCC made the change to Title II after court rulings held that this was needed to justify its authority to police open internet violations.
Longtime communications lawyer Andrew Schwartzman of Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation said the Internet was governed by Title II until 2005, when the Bush administration moved DSL services to Title I.
” The status of cable modem service, which did not play an important role until about 2000, was uncertain until 2003, when the FCC classified it under Tittle I,” he said.
Pai charged that Title II supporters such as former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler favored the rules by pointing to “hypothetical harms” in order to “energize a dispirited base” after the Democrats suffered setbacks in the 2014 midterm election.
“The case for Title II was a fact-free zone,” Pai said. “The truth of the matter is that we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom. It’s almost as if the special interests pushing Title II weren’t trying to solve a real problem but instead looking for an excuse to achieve their longstanding goal of forcing the Internet under the federal government’s control.”
He red-baited Free Press, a group that supports the Title II rules. The FCC chairman said that a co-founder — apparently referring to media scholar Robert McChesney — “admits that ‘the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.’ And who would assume control of the Internet? The government, of course.”
Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps sits on the Free Press board.
Pai justified his proposal to reverse the Title II standard by asserting it was responsible for what the FCC said was a 5.6%, or $3.6 billion, drop in domestic broadband capital expenditures by the 12 largest ISPs.
“This decline is extremely unusual,” Pai said. “It is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the Internet era.”
The period also corresponds with AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV and agreement to buy Time Warner, as well as Charter Communication’s purchase of Time Warner Cable.
Pai said the decline in investment “has already cost our nation approximately 75,000 to 100,000 jobs. “
All sides were quick to respond to Pai’s speech and plans. Here’s a sampling:
The Writers Guild of America, West strongly objects to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s decision to undermine the FCC’s Open Internet Rules and surrender control of the Internet to a handful of corporations. The current rules, which reclassified broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, are supported by millions of Americans and have been upheld in court. They have protected the Internet from anticompetitive actions by Internet service providers. These rules have allowed more independent and diverse programming to flourish, providing new creative and economic opportunities for writers and choices for consumers. As content creators and free speech advocates, we stand by the rules because they provide the best protection for the free and open Internet.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson:
Businesses large and small will have a clearer path to invest more in our nation’s broadband infrastructure under Chairman Pai’s leadership. And we are hopeful that bipartisan agreement can be reached on principles that protect internet openness, consumer choice and vibrant competition.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts:
We fully support reversal of Title II classification, a 1930s statute that is outdated and harms consumers by creating a cloud over broadband investment decisions and innovation. Chairman Pai’s proposed reversal of Title II does not mean there will be no open Internet protections, but rather creates an environment where we can have a fresh constructive dialogue.
NCTA- The Internet & Television Association CEO Michael Powell:
While we applaud and support Chairman Pai’s call to correct past mistakes through the rulemaking process, we are mindful that only Congress has the power to conclusively settle this debate and provide the FCC with clear authority to enforce specific open internet principles. We renew our support for bipartisan legislation that will end this decades-old legal controversy and permanently enshrine enforceable open internet principles in statute.
Consumers Union Senior Policy Counsel Jonathan Schwantes:
Voluntary commitments from broadband providers to adhere to net neutrality ‘principles’ are simply not a substitute — especially when there would be no cop left on the beat with the authority to ensure providers stick to their promises….We will continue to fight for an open internet because it is essential to free speech, free access to information, and innovation and economic growth. Consumer activism was key to getting these rules passed and will be just as important, if not more, in protecting them now. We urge all consumers to make their voices heard and oppose these efforts.